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Religious Upbringing: The Law and Child Rearing

Many people have religion in their life and religion plays a big part in who they are. For many people with religion in their lives, a critical component of their faith is having the ability to raise their children within their religion. While religious upbringing is fine for whole families, it can become difficult when it comes to parents who are separated. This is especially true for separated parents with different religious backgrounds. This article is aimed at discussing how courts handle this sticky situation.

Religion & Fundamental Rights

The right to practice one’s religion is fundamental to our concept of liberty interests. As a matter of fact, the right to practice one’s religion is provided for within the 1st Amendment, along with the freedom of speech, petition, and other foundational rights. Free exercise of religion was deemed critical by our Founding Fathers and it continues to be critical to this day. Because the right to practice one’s religion is a cornerstone of our rights, the judiciary is limited to some degree in the extent to which it may interfere with an individual’s exercise of this right.

Parenting & Fundamental Rights

Another Constitutionally protected right is one regarding the ability of a parent to direct their children’s upbringing. The law recognizes that there is a fundamental liberty interest in a parent’s right to provide for the care and raising of their children. This right includes the right of a parent to expose their children to various belief systems, philosophies, or religions. Additionally, there is a presumption that parents will act in the best interests of their children. Absent a demonstration that parent’s decisions are contrary to their children’s best interests, it can be difficult to limit a parent’s right to direct the upbringing of their children.

Intersection of Right and Beliefs

As mentioned previously, when parents are together, religious exposure doesn’t ordinarily become an issue. However, when parents divorce or otherwise end their relationship, religious indoctrination can be extremely divisive. And this issue can become all the more contentious if a court is called upon to issue orders regarding a parent’s right to raise their child in their religion of choice. There are Constitutional implications as to the impact on the parents, but there are additional concerns regarding what a court’s determination may mean for the children.

What do the Courts do?

A court faced with making a choice about religious exposure faces a difficult situation. Depending on the circumstances and history of the parties, the court may be limited in what it can do. In some instances, the decision is grounded upon the best interests of the children. If the children aren’t likely to suffer as a result of being exposed to multiple religions, perhaps shared decision-making with regard to religious decisions is appropriate. However, there are some religions that are much more restrictive than others. In these cases, the court may allow one parent to fully indoctrinate their children while prohibiting the other parent from attempts to indoctrinate the children in another religion.

Final Thoughts

Issues regarding religious upbringing are a difficult area for many divorces, legal separations, or cases concerning the allocation of parental responsibilities. If you have children and you hold different religious beliefs than the other parent of your children, it’s important to consider how it may affect a case sometime in the future. Take the time to speak to a family law attorney to consider your options. At Modern Family Law, we specialize in family law and we offer free consultations. So call us today to see what can be done for you.

Posted April 26, 2017
by: MFL Team

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